Baptism For The Dead

Question:

I have a question concerning I Corinthians 15:29 and the issue that Paul states there about those “which are baptized for the dead.” Setting aside the goofy ideas of Mormonism, and setting aside the issue of water baptism itself – is this an issue of using the word “baptism” as being ‘identified’ as dead, and thus Paul is speaking about himself and those properly educated adopted sons like him that (as Paul says) “stand in jeopardy every hour” and who “die daily” (which to me, connects back to Romans 8:35-36) and who are undergoing the “sufferings of Christ?” Is this the way your understand this issue? and would you please give me your understanding of it?

Answer:

I don’t really see the “for the dead” language fitting or allowing for that understanding. Furthermore, Paul seems to separate himself from this group and makes a point of doing so. When properly understood, water baptism need not, and I believe ought not, be set aside when it comes to this passage.

The basics of my understanding are this: He is returning to the fundamental and powerful premise that started him off on this discourse in the first place combating their thinking concerning resurrection, “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead…But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen…And if…then…etc.” I basically understand him to be identifying those that have been baptized “for” Christ, who in this case would not be risen, but dead. So I see this as being the primary issue with regard to the “dead” issue and reference in this verse as it is the culmination of the discussion. This then leads to further issues as to the precise nature of the “baptism” under discussion which would be taking place “for” an “un-risen” Christ.

Now, there are several things in the way that it is said which makes it very interesting to me. First of all, he says “they”, so it would seem to be a separate identifiable group that would be known to the Corinthians by this reference. Since I don’t see their baptism in connection with a special “effectual working” among certain saints there (ie. following Paul’s example in “dying daily”) I see this reference being a natural one in the overall context of this epistle. If it were a reference to those following Paul’s “dying” example, then it would apparently have to be referring to another assembly of saints as the Corinthians were explicitly not following him in this and numerous times he seems to indicate that there is none wise among them. Furthermore, the way he contrasts the “they” with “we” would seem odd if he were referring to another group of saints following him in his example. But as I said, I don’t really see the “for the dead” language allowing for that understanding. The “we” that are “in jeopardy” would include saints that are following Paul in “dying daily”, but the “they” are a separate group who, given the logic of the Corinthians’ thinking, were baptized “for the dead”. This is an identifiable group that is known to the Corinthians and notable for their “baptism”. This “baptism” had its own “offence” and “jeopardy” because of who it was done “for” and the “beasts” that it stirred up who Paul contended with (1 Thess. 2:14).

The core of his argument concerning “resurrection” in the previous verses has been primarily derived from the prophetic program. Baptism figured prominently in this regard, particularly in the “witness” and testimony of Christ’s resurrection throughout the book of Acts, which Paul was separated in accordance with and gave special “testimony” to (1 Cor. 15: 8,15) in his foundation “provocation” ministry. The Corinthians were made partakers of this special witness to Israel, along with the various signs and gifts that accompanied it. Tongues has already figured very prominently in connection with the errors he has had to address at this fellowship, and it goes hand in hand with water baptism and its testimony to Israel concerning Christ. Paul began this epistle off bringing special attention to the issue of water baptism, and making a point of putting it in its dispensational place as he will with tongues later. In connection with the witness of Christ’s resurrection, those under the ministry of the twelve were to be baptized “for the remission of sins”, but, “If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:16-18).

Paul’s Acts epistles repeatedly highlight the things of his provocation ministry, but he equally repeatedly highlights at the same time in those epistles their dispensational place and passing away. “…were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:13-17).

That at least is my understanding concerning this “dead” issue. Hope you find it of some help. Until next time.

Seated in heavenly places with Him,

-DWB

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